This post had been sitting in my Drafts pile for awhile; I started it awhile back when I was keenly feeling my lack of close friends in my neighborhood. My original title for the post was, “How To Live Without Friends.”
I would not want to live without friends, nor would I encourage anyone else to try to do so. However, sometimes friendships turn out to have an expiration date or a breaking point. And some of us go through long periods of time without a close friend living nearby. It’s good to be able to find meaningful connections even under those circumstances.
One of my most influential teachers (Harry Palmer, developer of the Avatar Course and books), has a saying, “If you want to conserve natural resources, make friends.” Makes sense. For one thing, there’s the simple fact that friends share! I would be willing to bet that closer-knit communities tend to have a lower carbon footprint than ones where people don’t know their neighbors. And the thing is, we don’t all have to be close buddies; just respecting and trusting each other enough to get along is enough. This is reassuring if you don’t happen to have close friends right where you live.
Another reason I think friendship tends to lead to lower eco-footprints, is that people suffering from loneliness are more likely to engage in mindless consumption, drug/alcohol abuse, “emotional eating,” and other behaviors to fill the void.
David at Raptitude.com has written one of the best articles on friendship that I’ve ever read: How To Go Deeper in 2020 – “Over the years, hundreds of acquaintances have passed through the periphery of your social life, and surely some of them would have been great friends if, in certain moments, one of you had gone a little deeper. If someone had asked, ‘Hey why don’t we do something together?’ or ‘Do you need help with that?’ a world might have been born.”
In her excellent 16-minute TED talk, Susan Pinker asserts that day-to-day face-to-face social contact may be the top factor in longevity. (Bonus for readerly types: This link contains both the video and the transcript.) Even more than having close friends and family in the neighborhood, it’s the sheer number of contacts that matters.
Ms. Pinker’s TED talk is only focused on longevity, but face-to-face connection in a community is also essential for building social cohesion, which is a key factor in a community’s disaster-resilience.
This article by Debra Guenther at mithun.com describes the correlation between disaster-resilience and a sense of connectedness among neighbors. “Events like the Chicago heat wave (or hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, etc.) represent “shocks” to a system. There are also continuous “stresses” to communities such as slow but steadily rising tides, changing temperatures and shifting plant communities. Resilience strategies, such as social cohesion, address both shocks and stresses and allow communities to both adapt to and recover from their impacts.”
My neighborhood has some of that connectedness (and I endeavor to do things that increase it, from saying hi to passersby and introducing myself to new neighbors, to running a Little Free Library). But we also still have a lot of houses that sit empty at least part of the year. (People’s vacation houses mostly — artifact of a tourist area.) And for the residents who rent rather than own, the rents are inelastically high. The different groups of kids I was so delighted to see running around the neighborhood playing, seem to have disappeared recently. I hope the families weren’t evicted.
How cohesive is your neighborhood? And how socially stable does it feel? Growing up in a military family, we were always the ones that moved. Now, as a person choosing to stay put and try to put down roots, I’m getting to experience the other side. We live in a mobile society, and it could be that for a lot of us, building social resilience on what feels like constantly shifting sands is just going to have to become a part of our skillset.
Over the years I’ve noticed that trying to grasp or cling to stability seems to be a lost cause, but that setting out to provide stability to others seems to work. Not only does it increase the supply of stability in the universe (by however a tiny amount), but also, interestingly, the endeavor of setting out to serve as a node of stability to others seems to bounce back on me; I end up feeling a greater sense of connectedness and stability.